The Spirit Enlarges Our Hearts

The Spirit Enlarges Our Hearts

Seventeenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Richard Conrad reflects upon how our lives are transformed and perfected through Jesus Christ.

Occasionally, God provides food and drink miraculously, as for the widow Elijah stayed with, or when Elisha fed the hundred. Jesus turned water into wine; he fed 5,000 from five loaves and two fish. St. Dominic and his mother multiplied wine; St. John Vianney multiplied wheat and flour. In 1949, rice was multiplied for the poor at the intercession of Bl. John Macias at Ribero del Fresno; this led to his canonisation.

Such miracles are “tactful”. The cruse of oil seems fuller than it should be; the cook ladles out rice, and when she turns back the pot is full again. The bread and fish are passed round, and somehow stretch. The people involved do a double-take before realizing what is going on, and being struck by the Creator’s presence.

More often, God provides food and drink in a less miraculous, but more complete and cooperative way. For he holds in being the rain, the soil; the Sun, the light it sheds; the chloroplasts, their photosynthesis; the treading of grapes; the yeast and the fermentation process – and so water becomes wine. He holds in being the combine harvesters, the bread-making machines, the baking process…

We take all this for granted, and so we should, just as most of the time we must take each other for granted (we cannot throw a thank-you party every time someone around us does an hour of his or her daily work!) The Creator is divinely self-effacing. We must do a double-take if we are to wonder at the very being of all things and all processes, and recognize how every crumb exists because, here and now, God loves it.

These miracles start with something natural, brought by those who will receive – the widow’s handful of meal, the water which the servants drew at Cana, the five loaves and two fish. God could make food and drink spring into being out of nothing, as indeed he does make the whole cosmos spring into being out of nothing. But he prefers that his miraculous gifts build on what, by his previous gift, earth or sky has given and human hands have gathered or made.

Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” He expressed the faith of the people present, faith which the sign they witnessed was meant to enlarge. But once Jesus had explained that his Flesh must be eaten and his Blood drunk – implying he must be sacrificed – some were to find this New Law “a hard saying”.

In obedience to Jesus, we bring what earth has given and human hands have made. We repeat the formula he used when supper was ended: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” We run together in one Eucharistic Prayer, one Prayer of Thanksgiving, Jesus’ blessing over the bread before the meal, his thanksgiving and intercession over the chalice after it. We repeat the words of the Creative Word: “This is my Body… This is the Chalice of my Blood…” And so, in a most miraculous and a most complete and cooperative a way, the Word who became flesh dwells among us. With a supreme tact he enables us to eat his Body and drink his Blood beneath signs that tell us he is our food and joy, strength and unity, pattern and life. We have to do the double-take of faith, since the whole being of the bread and wine becomes the whole being of Christ’s Body and Blood, at a depth where only the Creator can work, and no natural scrutiny can penetrate.

The Eucharist radiates blessing on the whole cosmos, and on the whole fabric of human life and work. This powerful but gentle sign of Jesus’ Sacrifice, which is our New Law, weans us off our resistance to the Beatitudes by which Jesus lived and died. We who are nourished by his Body and Blood may be filled with the Holy Spirit, whose coming is the fruit of Jesus’ Sacrifice. The Spirit comes as Grace to build on the human nature he crafted. By what The Catechism of the Catholic Church 687 calls a divine self-effacement, the Spirit enlarges our hearts so that, by faith and love, we can welcome the “hard saying” which is the Father’s Word, Jesus crucified.


Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44|Ephesians 4:1-6|John 6:1-15

fr. Richard Conrad teaches dogmatic and sacramental theology at Blackfriars, Oxford.